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Career Succession: How One Diva Sang Goodbye to the Boss Who was Holding Her Back

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Did you know that the greatest love song of all time was about career succession?

It was about a yearning for career mobility. A path. A next step. A promotion.

A new opportunity that her employer was simply unable to provide.

The song that Whitney Houston famously sang in The Body Guard, “I Will Always Love You.”

And Iiiiiiiii, iiiiieeeiiii, will always love you… (Sing it with me!)



They are all that I’m taking with me

So goodbye

Don’t cry

We both know, I’m not what you need

But I will always love you.

Dolly Parton wrote "I Will Always Love You" in 1973 after country legend Porter Wagoner (aka Mr. Grand Ole Opry) discovered her and put her on as a regular on his #1 country singing show.

(Image: Wikipedia)

Despite trying to keep Dolly in a support role, she rose to stardom quickly.

She had the obvious charisma, talent, and drive to become the household name she is today.

Eventually, she started to outshine him on his show.

But Porter held tight, and so did Dolly.

Eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore. So she whipped up the song, brought her guitar into his office, and sang it to him.

Then she walked out the door.

What a legend!

For them, like all business relationships, it wasn’t “just business.” As she made the difficult decision to leave her mentor, friend, and toxic boss, Dolly was feeling a lot of emotions.

The song went on to become one of the most-sung songs of all time, and Dolly made millions.

It’s all captured in NPR’s remarkable podcast Dolly Parton’s America, which I highly recommend. Not only is Dolly highly talented and philanthropic, but she’s also one heck of a businesswoman.

Succession planning, which is HR jargon for recruiting, hiring, and facilitating the upward growth of employees, is a topic I often address with clients.

We do so much work recruiting “big names” for the organization, and often before I’ve even finished the telephone pre-screen, the candidate is asking about the next step in their career should they take the role.

Except that most of the time, the hiring manager hasn’t gotten that far.

Succession planning is critical to organizational success. Here are a few things that I recommend mid-sized business clients do to prevent an employee from serenading you with a sad goodbye song.

Organizational Design

Rapidly growing companies don’t always focus on organizational charts. But every employee wants to — and should — know where they stand within the organization.

An org chart can be an easy visual cue.

Org charts are fluid documents that will and should change with the organization.

If the traditional hierarchy chart doesn’t strike your fancy, we can dream up one that does. They can be squares or circles or the shape of your favorite team mascot- the important part is having a roadmap that everyone can follow.

Talk to Your People

There is no one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to succession planning. Ultimately, it’s going to be driven by ongoing relationships and discussions with your people — at least quarterly.

Find out what they are doing and where they want to go.

Movement is based on two things: motivation and ability.

A motivated but not-great-at-her-job employee is going to take different coaching than an employee who has the strong ability (but is quite comfortable where she is at).

Help them achieve the skills they need to get where they want to go.

Recognize that some people are “pros in place” and ultimately want to stay right where they are and that can be fine too.

We all can’t be Dolly. But we can help our people be their best.

If you want help with succession planning, our HR consultants can help.

Rethinking Career Mobility

In the book Up is Not the Only Way: Rethinking Career Mobilithy, the authors acknowledge that there are different paths. Essentially it explains why not all employees want to be on the traditional "ladder."

When it comes to succession, essentially managers and employers have three options.

  1. Lateral movement – Taking on a position at the same level but in a different part of the organization.

  2. Step-back – An employee-initiated reduction of responsibility to support a season in their life.

  3. Vertical transition – The traditional “ladder-climbing” type promotion.

When it Comes to Goodbye, Please Don’t Cry

Sometimes, it’s just the right time for a person to move on. And that can be OK too.

If we’ve thoroughly explored all the organization has to offer and can’t find something that ignites their heart and mind, they may leave you.

According to the authors of Up is Not the Only Way, there can be some benefits to employees leaving your organization, including:

  • The Boomerang Theory – Organizations are often rehiring people after they have gained expertise from an outside organization.

  • Brand Ambassadors – Treat them well and they will buy from you (or refer your business) for life.

  • Expanding Network – If you keep up the relationship, you now have contacts in a whole new organization.

As for Porter and Parton, although dramatic, I think her exit was for the best.

They both made a lot of money on the song and ultimately rekindled their friendship. I do think, handled differently, they could have come up with some mutually beneficial lateral movement options within the show... her own segment? A spin-off?

Either way, if you want a business partner who lays in bed at night wondering about how to do these kinds of things for you, I’d love to chat about your recruiting and retention plans.

Looking for HR consulting services in the Cincinnati region? Schedule a chat with us today!

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